How to Begin Again After Suffering
Suffering. We all experience seasons of it, and we all dread its arrival. Suffering for extended periods of time is a transformative time for our souls. The transformation is the positive we get to take with us after we turn the tassel and graduate from its tumultuous season.
Transformation of our souls is not easy business. It takes heartache, loss, refining, refiguring, character changes, humility, crying out, anger, patience, stillness, and pain. Lots and lots of pain. If we could settle and relax in the midst of the pain, maybe our fighting against it and banging around in it would produce fewer bruises, fewer tears, fewer fears.
When a season of suffering entraps us, we can aid in either its pain, or its gain.
- Pain – For instance, a hungry child (suffering) will not get to go home to eat if he keeps crying and resisting being strapped into his car seat. His resistance is aiding the pain by delaying getting home to eat!
- Gain – The same hungry child (suffering) will get home sooner if he relaxes and settles into the car seat, trusting his parent. His trust aids the gain by helping him to get home more quickly so he can eat.
Being still during times of suffering seems counterintuitive to getting through it easier. How do we not fight against what is happening to us? Fighting against suffering is a knee-jerk reaction. We don’t want change. We are comfortable and used to the way things are. But what we forget is that “the way things are” is what we have become after having gone through some other prior suffering. We are constantly transforming. If we weren’t, we’d never grow.
It’s not that we don’t allow ourselves to feel our feelings, we feel them, but we don’t ruminate in them repeatedly in our minds going over and over and over and over again, and never getting out of the sad thought cycle. We feel our feelings and we accept that the coming change is for our ultimate good—for growth toward our life’s purpose. I have not personally suffered from all the adversities listed below (divorce, infertility, or old age), but am sensitive to them because of friends/family I know who have.
- Growing is experiencing the full spectrum of the grieving process over a loss, but then allowing new tender shoots to sprout in a way they couldn’t have without enduring the loss. When it’s time to move forward, it’s giving yourself permission to grow new shoots while simultaneously still acknowledging the loss of a loved one, a pet, or any kind of loss.
When pain and suffering come upon us, we finally see not only that we are not in control of our lives but that we never were.Timothy Keller
- Growing is accepting the divorce is final and that a new chapter is to begin, even though you don’t know how to start. The first step though is stillness. It’s breathing. It is trusting that this chapter will be different, but that different isn’t bad. It is going to be a season of personal growth and new abilities. It’s allowing yourself to grieve, but also finding support in community. Help and resources are there for the asking. Take a step and reach out to a friend who won’t try to fix you, but who will listen and hold your hand.
Jesus Christ did not suffer so that you would not suffer. He suffered so that when you suffer, you’ll become more like him. The gospel does not promise you better life circumstances; it promises you a better life.Timothy Keller
- Growing is listening to the doctor explain the details of the diagnosis and trusting that this chapter must happen for you to grow into your next phase of being. It’s realizing that this diagnosis is only part of a larger plan—one that you cannot see. Profound growth is going to feel like you are being ripped apart, but the gold must melt for the dross to be removed. You are not alone. God sees you and feels every moment of your pain and knows every moment of your fear. You will have to be ironclad in your thoughts, not letting them run through scenarios that may never happen. This will tempt you, but you have the ability to turn your thoughts toward the One who made you and is still forming you.
Just because we don’t see a reason for evil and suffering doesn’t mean there’s not a reason for it.Timothy Keller
- Growing is learning that you or your spouse is infertile. The next chapter will not be as you dreamed. Anger rises and jealousy pops up whenever your friend’s little bump starts popping out. People will be insensitive and not remember or understand the pain you feel. You may hear a lot—“Well, you can always adopt!” And you can, and that is wonderful, but your first need is to be understood – grieving with someone who has experienced what you are going through. You need time to grieve the loss of not conceiving your own child before people start telling you about your other options. You don’t have to move on that quickly. You feel alone—even distant from your spouse because you feel guilty, or you feel angry. It’s no one’s fault. Rest and be still for a while in your grieving, but talk. Talk to someone who has been there. Don’t stay in it alone, or you won’t grow.
Christ did not suffer so you wouldn’t suffer. He suffered so when you suffer you will become like Him.Timothy Keller
- Growing is growing old. You don’t hold the job anymore that gave you your identity for many chapters of your life. Now you are the old guy in room #134. Now you feel you are a burden because you are less able to do things for yourself. You need help. Growing old is growing vulnerable and humble. Vulnerability and humility are gems that few find. Vulnerability invites people in. No doubt you will make new friends while you grow old. You can’t stop time, but don’t stop the people who want to befriend you in this season. There are new best friends waiting for you. Jesus esteems the humble. It’s too bad that it’s so difficult to behold in our younger years. Much has to be taken away if we can’t find it on our own. Humility is so important that God is allows it to refine us like a gargantuas emery board.
Suffering can refine us rather than destroy us because God himself walks with us in the fire.Timothy Keller
- Growing is losing a job. The instability you feel is immediate. Panic sets in and thinking blurs. There are few thoughts outside of this realm of your new reality. Rest a moment and breathe. Get out pen and paper and begin the journey of turning the page to the next chapter. There is margin on the page for a reason. We need space to see the important stuff. Take advantage of it. Devise a plan. Hold your thoughts with care and discipline. Do not let your mind turn your chapter into a horror story. You’ve got this. Growth is forthcoming. Trust that there is something different for you—something that you need. Panic and becoming frantic are not productive. Sit down, rest, write your new chapter. You haven’t reached the end of your book yet.
Suffering is the stripping of our hope in finite things, therefore we do not put our ultimate hope in anything finite.Timothy Keller
Suffering comes to us in various forms and at us at various velocities. Sometimes many sufferings occur concurrently or back-to-back. You are not alone when you suffer. You are seen and you are held. There is always a reason even though you may never know the “why.” Job never knew the why for his suffering. There is life beyond the whys. It’s waiting for you to design, one pen stroke at a time.
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